Saturday, October 3, 2015

Why We Approach Self-care All Wrong

FB and TV are self-care.
I love words. A good quote can make my heart sing. But some words prompt an almost visceral reaction in me. Self-care is one of them.

Self-care is a technically accurate term but it rubs me wrong. It’s kind of like when you hear a dad say he’s babysitting his kids. They’re your kids, you lazy fool! You aren’t babysitting them. You’re doing your dang job.

What gets my goat about the term self-care (a term of art almost exclusively used by women), is that it’s used as if we’re speaking of an optional indulgence. We’re not.

Do you bathe, brush your teeth, wash your face? If so, you’re engaging in self-care. Some forms of self-care have reached venerated status: meditation, exercise, practicing gratitude, and journaling being among them. While no one has yet researched the therapeutic benefits of straightening (or curling or blow drying) your hair it’s a form of legitimate self-care.

Self-care is akin to diet (and food in itself is a form of self-care). You can be Paleo, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat, Calorie-Conscious or Low-Carb. The individual benefits can be touted, both scientifically and anecdotally, but no one can really say what really fuels and nourishes you in a particular moment, but you.

You can hardly turn around without being smacked by a 7, 8 (or 25!) point bullet list of overwhelmingly helpful self-care tips for the body and soul. Sucking down a Frappuccino while checking Facebook never makes the list. But perhaps it should.

We delude ourselves into thinking we don’t have the time or energy to practice self-care because it’s been made so grandiose. But we’re already doing it. The question is are you practicing it in a way that leaves you refueled and refreshed or drained and depleted?

Acknowledge You’re Already Doing Self-care
Stop telling yourself you don’t have enough time for self-care. You’re already doing it. You just may not be doing it well. Start by making a list of all the things you’re doing, even things that don’t seem healthy or significant. Now cull through that list.

Evaluate If You’re Doing It Well
What truly works for you? You run or do CrossFit or swim? Do you find Instagram calming or motivating or just enjoyable? Good. Then keep doing that.
But are there things you default to simply out of habit, not because they’re actually helpful? These are the things you need to replace or, at least, reduce.

Change What’s Not Working
Do you want to implement new habits, like meditation and mindfulness, into your existing routine? Then do it. If you don’t know where to begin, start small.
  • Do you start your morning with a nice steamy jolt of caffeine? Tomorrow while you’re scooping the grounds and pouring the water, think of two things you’re grateful for.  Do it again the day after.  Not a coffee drinker? Do it while you pack your kids lunches or apply make-up.
  • Are you going to be going through a drive-thru, pickup line, getting stuck behind a train or stopping at a red light today? Are you going to load the dishwasher or throw in a load of laundry? Use that time to breathe deeply, even if it’s only a few breaths. 
  • As you wait for your computer to turn on, the elevator to get to your floor, or everyone to get on the conference call, don’t use those sixteen seconds to check your phone. Don’t multi-task. Just be present in that moment.
  • When you get home in the evenings do you get the mail while balancing your coat, your kids’ book bags and an empty coffee mug because, although cumbersome, you “save” time by making one trip instead of two? Stop. Come inside. Set everything down. Change. Now walk through the grass. Drink in two minutes of sunshine. You’re getting home after dark? Look up at the stars.
  • Do you unwind in the evening with a glass of pinot grigio and a DVR’d episode of The Blacklist? Me too. Before you flop onto the couch, light a candle. Pour your wine into cut crystal. The next time you’re at the drug store, pick up Epson salts so you can soak your feet.
Self-care isn’t complicated. It’s not even time-consuming. It’s just doing whatever makes you whole and happy.

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